How to Vacation like a Griswold

Traditional family vacations weren’t really a thing for my family growing up. My dad worked in various jobs that involved second or third shifts and then, later on, he travelled a lot. Mom worked, too, as a bookkeeper. We didn’t have a lot of time or money for the elaborate, week-long affairs that some of my friends took every summer.

vacationThat meant a lot of the time I was out of school I spent at friend’s houses, or reading in a corner of my mom’s office. It also meant that our ‘vacations’ involved mom and I tagging along on one of dad’s business trips. So for us it was spring break in Menominee, Michigan, about an hour north of Green Bay, WI or a summer trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas, just east of the Mississippi River. Since we weren’t in traditional vacation spots and often my dad had to get to meetings or jump on conferences call or check in on clients or locations, my mom and I would try and find whatever sightseeing was to be had in these out of the way locations. I was obsessive about the color brochures in the wooden rack in the lobby of the Holiday Inn. Before the internet or Yelp! or Google those brochures were a Technicolor lifeline with directions to all of the local wonders.

We had a routine. When we arrived at the motel, Mom would get settled in the room. Dad and I would “check the place out.” Pool? Check. Ice Machine? Check.

“Did you get all of your literature?” my dad would ask, meaning the stack of brochures.

I would always have more brochures than our time allotted would allow. There would be ads for outlet malls, which were a new thing when I was a kid. There were state parks or, if we were lucky, national parks. There were museums of all shapes and sizes. Waterparks or small local amusement parks always had enticing pictures. We saw lots of World’s Largest (Fill in the Blanks) and long forgotten historical sites, like presidential birthplaces or family homes. One particular favorite was the courtroom of Isaac Parker, “The Hanging Judge,” in Fort Smith. He was the original purveyor of frontier justice when Oklahoma was the frontier.

The unspoken point was that it didn’t matter where we were on our vacation. We might not have been in Orlando or Gatlinburg or at the beach like other families, but we were together. We could swim in the motel pool. We could eat at Howard Johnsons or a local hamburger joint. I could use my dad’s change to buy things from those vending machines that had nail clippers and toothpaste and a magic ink notepad. We didn’t make it to most of the places in the brochures, but it never mattered.

When the original Vacation movie came out, it felt like it had been made just for my family. To this day, my dad and I will stop and watch anytime we find it on television. My mom, not known for her movie trivia, will never forget Aunt Edna being strapped to the top of the family truckster. The most encouraging thing you can say to someone in my family, before a job interview or a tough work challenge or just anytime you need a pick-me-up, is “Remember, you’re a Griswold!” For us, it is about remembering that you’re different, you’re strong, and don’t let anybody get you down, even if you show up at Wally World and the park is closed.

The new Vacation, with Ed Helms and Christy Applegate, may or may not be as good as the original (let’s be honest, probably not,) but I don’t really care. Just spending more time in the Griswold universe with Rusty and Clark is enough for me. As Helms’ Rusty says in the movie, “My trip to Wally World when I was a kid was the best trip I ever had.” My parents and I won’t get to see the movie together, but, in typical style, we won’t let that get in our way. We can have a conference call debrief after. Maybe for old time’s sake we could even do the call from the car in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn.